Centenary | 

'Dublin Castle is now in Irish hands' - the day the British surrendered

President leads ceremony to mark 100 years since handover of power

Micheál Martin and Leo Varadkar with Elizabeth Berney, daughter of General Richard Mulcahy, IRA chief of staff during the War of Independence

Philip Ryan

On January 16, 1922, the handing over of Dublin Castle by the British to the newly formed Provisional Irish Government was delayed for around an hour-and-a-half because Michael Collins was travelling from outside the city.

In perhaps an homage to the delay, on the landmark day in Ireland's fight for freedom from its colonial rulers, President Michael D Higgins was slightly delayed in his arrival at the 100-year commemoration.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin waited patiently on stage along with the Dublin Lord Mayor Alison Gilliland as the President's entourage pulled into the courtyard of Dublin Castle.

Mr Martin was escorted by three senior members of the Defence Forces into the courtyard a little earlier.

It looked as if the soldiers were struggling to keep up with the Taoiseach, who nearly broke into a brisk jog as he made his entrance.

President Michael D Higgins with descendants of Treaty negotiators

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar was escorted into Dublin Castle by one military personnel and shown to his seat alongside the rest of the Cabinet members. There was no seat at the top table for the Fine Gael leader at this event.

The entire Cabinet was in attendance for the commemoration and was seated alongside the leaders of the opposition, including Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald, Labour Party leader Alan Kelly and Social Democrats co-leader Catherine Murphy.

Ms McDonald was seated directly beside Department of Taoiseach Secretary General Martin Fraser, who may have wondered if he was sitting beside his future boss.

Attorney General Paul Gallagher showed up late to the event and struggled to find a seat. Minister of State Peter Burke got a tap on the shoulder to tell him he was in the attorney general's seat and was demoted to the row for junior ministers.

Former Taoisigh Bertie Ahern and Enda Kenny also attended, along with two former Presidents, Mary McAleese and Mary Robinson.

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris was also there, as was UK ambassador to Ireland Paul Johnston.

Members of the Council of State, the diplomatic corps, the judiciary and representatives from Northern Ireland were also present.

The audience for the commemoration also included descendants of the key figures involved in the handover of Dublin Castle.

Once all the dignitaries were seated, the story of the historic day was read aloud in the middle of the courtyard.

The guests of honour and those who were watching on television heard how the Irish Independent described the handover of Dublin Castle by Viceroy of Ireland Lord FitzAlan-Howard to the Provisional Government led by Michael Collins as "certainly the most significant event in Irish history for hundreds of years" in the newspaper the next day.

There were no press or photographers present for the momentous event 100 years ago. The official handover happened privately behind closed doors.

Soldiers at Dublin Castle

There was no pomp or ceremony when Collins handed over the Treaty to the last viceroy of Ireland.

After the story was completed yesterday, Mr Higgins unveiled a specially created plaque (inset) to mark the commemoration.

The Tricolour was then raised and the national anthem was played. And with that, the commemoration was over and the dignitaries mingled with each other in the bright January day.

The event was dignified and sombre, perhaps in acknowledgement of what was to come.

There will be more difficult commemorations throughout this year.

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